Neil (Ben Affleck) is an American traveling in Europe who meets and falls in love with Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a Ukrainian divorcée who is raising her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana in Paris. The lovers travel to Mont St. Michel, the island abbey off the coast of Normandy, basking in the wonder of their newfound romance. Neil makes a commitment to Marina, inviting her to relocate to his native Oklahoma with Tatiana. He takes a job as an environmental inspector and Marina settles into her new life in America with passion and vigor. After a holding pattern, their relationship cools. Marina finds solace in the company of another exile, the Catholic priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is undergoing a crisis of faith. Work pressures and increasing doubt pull Neil further apart from Marina, who returns to France with Tatiana when her visa expires. Neil reconnects with Jane (Rachel McAdams), an old flame. They fall in love until Neil learns that Marina has fallen on hard times. ...Written by
TO THE WONDER is the new film from master writer/director Terrence Malick. The story begins with Ben Affleck's character, Neil, in Paris where he falls in-love with a single mother named Marina, played by the beautiful Olga Kurylenko. Neil brings his new love and her daughter, Tatiana, back home with him to the United States. When Marina's visa expires and Affleck's character is reluctant to marry her, Marina and her daughter return to Paris. Neil begins spending his time with a childhood friend, Jane, played by Rachel McAdams. However Jane is a woman of great faith, a faith that Neil does not share. Back in Paris, Tatiana leaves to go live with her father and Marina becomes depressed, longing to return to the US to try to work things out with Neil. It is at this point that the story falls apart.
It's impossible not to compare TO THE WONDER to THE TREE OF LIFE simply because the two films are shot in the exact same style. Beautiful shots and gorgeous cinematography accompanied by a classical score and poetic voice-overs from the characters. The Tree of Life was and is not only a masterpiece, but one of the greatest films to ever be made. I thought maybe To The Wonder was a little too soon for another Malick epic but I do not believe that is the case as far as why this film fails.
The two characters I felt for and wanted to see more of was Javier Bardem's Father Quintana and Rachel McAdams' Jane. Here we have a priest struggling in his relationship with God and a woman who has suffered through the grief and loss of a child, yet has found a way to continue living in harmony with great faith. These highly interesting characters are under-used as the film focuses more on Neil and Marina, who by the end of the film, we begin to hate.
The actors do not help the film tell it's story, it almost seems like they walked on-set without a script and improvised their parts. In Tree Of Life we had Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn and Brad Pitt giving the performances of a lifetime, not through dialogue, but simply through facial expression, movement and body language. There wasn't a need for scenes of dialogue, the story was understood. With To The Wonder, I was craving a scene of dialogue towards the end. I didn't want to believe Affleck and Kurylenko's characters were as shallow and selfish as they seemed, I wanted and felt I deserved to know more about them and why they continued to struggle. Why are they so frustrated and angry?
No matter how abstract or convoluted a film is, I've never had an issue coming to some sort of an understanding and usually, the more a film leaves open for me to interpret myself, the more I respect the film. However, To The Wonder leaves us with two characters we no longer have any reason to care for and the film gives us no way to understand or relate to them in the end.
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